On gun shopping

I bought a rifle.

I bought a rifle because Kevin and I have been hunting deer in states that, unlike Massachusetts, allow it, and a rifle is a much better tool for deer-hunting than a 20-gauge shotgun with a rifled barrel, the only other gun I own.

I should say at the outset that I don’t enjoy killing deer. I do it because I think culling animals that have overrun their environment – feral hogs, Canada geese, whitetail deer – is the most responsible way to eat meat. Last year, Kevin and I brought home over 100 pounds of venison, and I don’t think we’ve bought any beef since (although we do buy the occasional lamb leg). There is immense satisfaction in making a meal from an overpopulated animal we took ourselves.

And, while I don’t enjoy the killing, I take satisfaction, also, in doing it well. That job begins with choosing a gun. Going in, I had no idea how to buy a rifle. Coming out, I have a limited idea. There is a great deal to know about rifles, the vast majority of which I will never know. But it’s possible to know enough to make a choice.

Those of you who know guns will laugh when I tell you just how long it took me to cotton on to the fact that there are models of rifles, and then there are calibers, and they are not to be confused. So, for example, the Remington 700 is a model. .270 Winchester is a caliber. You can buy a Remington 700 that is chambered for .270 Winchester, but you can also buy one chambered for other calibers.

The caliber is the diameter of the bullet, and you’d think it would be straightforward: the larger the number, the larger the ammunition. And sometimes that’s quite clear. A .270 is larger than, say, a .243, and smaller than a .338. But then someone, somewhere, decided to make it harder by throwing in calibers like .30-30 (smaller than a .270) and .30-06 (larger than a .270). Oh, and where, exactly, does 7mm fit in?

This makes it very easy to look like an idiot when you’re gun-shopping. I tried to limit my look-like-an-idiot opportunities by deciding ahead of time which caliber I wanted.

Last fall, when we went to Virginia to hunt on the farm of our friends Gene and Polly, Gene let me try out his rifle – that Remington 700, chambered for .270. I felt comfortable with it, and shot a very nice doe with it.  A .270 is large enough for deer, or even elk, but not large enough for animals like grizzly bears or moose, which I have no plans to hunt. I figured that was the caliber for me.

My doe from last year

My doe from last year

All that was left was to pick among the gazillions of .270 rifles on the market. New ones range from a few hundred dollars to thousands, and there’s also a huge selection of used ones.

A gun is a fine thing to buy used, as it’s a very simple machine that, ordinarily, doesn’t break or even wear very much. If you look online, you’ll find hundreds and hundreds of rifles for sale, all across the country.

But a gun has to feel right, and I wanted to be able to hold it, to bring it up to my shoulder, to look through the scope, before I bought it. This is particularly important to me because I’m a little hard to fit. I have a long neck, and the space between my shoulder and cheek is, consequently, large. A gun with a raised stock (called, as I was to learn, a Monte Carlo stock) is often the best fit, although some standard stocks fit pretty well too. I limited my search to guns I could physically handle, and whose fit I could assess.

There are a couple of small gun shops on Cape Cod, but they have a very limited selection, and few rifles (to be expected, since hunting with them isn’t allowed in our state). So Kevin and I took advantage of a road trip to DC to stop in at a Cabela’s, which had a pretty good range of both used and new rifles.

The main thing I learned, rifle shopping, was that every single .270 rifle out there on the market will do the job I need it to do. I want to shoot a deer, and I want to do it inside 200 yards. The rock-bottom cheapest rifle will do that reliably. So will the top-drawer most expensive. Given that, is seemed to make sense to find a low-end version that fits me well, and buy it. Well, OK then.

Several makers have a low-end version with a good reputation (like the Ruger American), and one Massachusetts company, Savage Arms, is in the business of making lower-priced guns that are of very good quality for the money. The better-known makers, like Remington and Browning, also have a wide range of price points. I picked up a lot of guns, but didn’t find the right one.

When we got home, we took a trip up to Maine to visit the Kittery Trading Post, which has one of the biggest selections of rifles, new and used, that I’ve seen. I went through their inventory, gun by gun, and handled every .270 in my price range.

And I discovered something. It’s not sufficient for the gun to fit. You have to like the gun.

The best fit for me was a Remington 700. It was a demo model, on sale for about $700. It had a Monte Carlo stock, and felt good every time I lifted it to my shoulder. It had a synthetic stock, green and smooth, with patches of black slightly tacky material where you hold it. It was very comfortable to grip, and the synthetic stock and stainless steel barrel made it a practical gun for the dampness that is endemic to Cape Cod.

But I just didn’t like it.

The second-best fit was a Tikka T3. Tikka is the lower-end brand of the Finnish maker Sako, owned by Beretta, and this particular one (which was new) was marked down significantly, to $600. It had a walnut stock, simple lines, and was lighter than the Remington. And I liked it.

Do I get the best fit that I don’t like, or the second-best fit, that I do like?

For me, going out in the woods to kill a deer is a serious and important job. The reason I was buying a rifle in the first place was that I wanted to have the right tool for that job. I want to have a gun I have perfect confidence in. I want it to be adjusted just for me, and I want to practice with it so that I know exactly what to do at 75, 100, or 150 yards. I want the shot that counts, the one taken at a live animal, to be as close to perfect as I can make it.

It’s hard to explain, although I’m betting any hunter reading this understands. I have a feeling that a gun that you like makes a better partner. The aesthetics of the rifle won’t make any difference to how smoothly it loads or how accurately it shoots. But it makes a difference to how you feel when you hold it. When I shoot an animal, I want everything to go right, and I can’t help thinking that liking your gun can help with that.

I bought the Tikka.

My Tikka T3 Lite

My Tikka T3 Lite

It is, to my eyes, a beautiful gun. I haven’t shot it yet, but I’ve looked at it a lot. I’ve picked it up, and run the bolt in and out. I’ve looked through the scope, over and over, to get comfortable with exactly where on my shoulder it nestles and where on the stock my cheek rests.

I like the gun. I like the gun a lot.

Wish me deer.

What camping does to you

Those of you who come here often already know that Kevin has managed, against all odds, to get me camping. A couple months back, we bought what he billed as a ‘tiny house,’ but is really a standard-issue slide-in truck camper. We did a shakedown cruise in the form of a one-night stay at a campground here on the Cape, but the real test wasn’t until last week, when we took it to Acadia National Park for three whole days.

Obligatory Acadia selfie

Obligatory Acadia selfie

Three whole days! Living, basically, out of your truck.

I learned that Acadia is absolutely beautiful. I learned that I miss hiking, which we seldom do on Cape Cod. I learned that whoever invented bicycles with gears deserves the Nobel Prize for Enabling Serious Hill Climbing (they do give one of those, don’t they?).

And I learned that camping seriously lowers your standards.

If ever there was a case that camping wasn’t for me, that’s it, because my standards are perilously low to begin with. My motto in so many areas of life – dressing, home repair, personal hygiene – is “It’s probably good enough.”

This has been the source of some friction in my generally low-friction marriage to Kevin. He’s always wanting to buy the thing that isn’t the cheapest, or build the thing to withstand more than one season, or throw the thing out when I think there’s still plenty of wear left in it (case in point: underpants).

Although, to his credit, Kevin also has a few low standards. He has the most disreputable set of stained, ripped tee-shirts you’ve ever seen. He never, ever calls you back. And he’s not going to win any prizes in Garage Organization.

You might argue (as I have) that this makes us compatible. But it also has the danger of trapping us in a low-standards downward spiral. The road to hell is paved with situations where no one’s there to say, “Hold on! Maybe you shouldn’t be repairing the chimney with insulating foam and a machete.”

We live in a 900-square foot house that bears an uncanny resemblance to a shack. Our trim needs painting. Our landscaping is, well, it actually isn’t. Inside, there are often spiderwebs in the corners. The floor is covered with cork tile we put down as a temporary measure some five years ago. Under these circumstances, lowering our standards could be dangerous.

But camping makes our home seem luxurious! Well-appointed! Pristine!

It starts with a toilet. At home, we have one! And it works. For quite a while, we had one that didn’t, really, but then we renovated our bathroom. (Before you start giving us credit for higher standards, I should tell you that we didn’t renovate it until the tile literally started falling off the wall of the shower. For a while, we held it up with duct tape, but there’s only so long you can make that work.)

Our camper has one, too, but not really. It’s one of those chemical jobs that nobody every uses voluntarily. But one of the ways Kevin won me over to camping was to point out that campgrounds generally have toilets, so you don’t have to use the one in the camper. Until we started camping, I viewed having to leave the house to use the bathroom as a definite non-starter but, somehow, when you’re camping, it’s OK. Even though it means you have to put on either a bra or a sweatshirt, take a flashlight if it’s dark, and share a bathroom with an entire campground’s worth of strangers, it’s OK.

Then there’s the food. My standards there aren’t quite as low as they are in other areas, because I really love to eat. We have a very well-equipped kitchen, and we consistently turn out excellent meals.

In the camper, we have a propane stove with three burners, which you have to light with a match. There is a tiny workspace created by putting a cutting board over the sink, which is small, shallow, and works by pumping a lever up and down. There is a refrigerator, but we don’t use it unless we’re connected to electricity, which we weren’t, so two coolers filled with ice kept cold things cold.

But we brought a grill, of course. On our first night, Kevin smoked a chicken and then grilled corn and asparagus over the remaining coals. Plain corn, buttered. Plain asparagus, with olive oil, salt and pepper. At home, that’s a make-do kind of meal. But serve it when you’re camping, and you start looking for your Michelin star.

Not to mention that we ate it off, not plastic, but Corelle, practically indistinguishable from Spode. The picnic table was pretty dirty, but we had the Sunday New York Times, which includes a Style section printed on heavier-than-normal newsprint (I’ve always wondered why). Who needs linen damask? Naturally there was no dishwasher, but there also wasn’t running water. But we had two – count ‘em, TWO! – buckets, one for wash water, one for rinse. Clean-up was a snap.

For showering, we had two choices. We have one of those black bags with a spigot that you fill with water and leave in the sun, and we hung that on a tree. Unfortunately, the campsite was completely shaded, and the water did little better than ambient temperature, but it was just fine for washing my hair. And, really, when it comes right down to it, how many parts of your body require daily cleaning? I can think of three, and a washcloth is more than adequate.

Our other choice was coin-op showers, about a mile away. Kevin chose that option, although only once. If we had a Who’s Cleaner? contest, it would have been (dirty) neck-and-neck. But it was undoubtedly good enough.

At least that’s what I thought, until the morning we left. As we packed everything up, I started to be a little uneasy about our … ahem … condition. Because we weren’t going straight home. We were fortunate enough to have invitations to stop both for lunch and for dinner on our way.

Lunch was two hours south of Acadia, on the coast of Maine, with our friends Zora and Jonathan. At least, they’re our friends now. When we showed up at their house for lunch, we didn’t know them at all. Zora and I both travel in food circles, and are Facebook friends. When she read that Kevin and I were going to Acadia, she invited us to stop in.

Zora’s idea of “stopping in,” we were to discover, involves a four-course lunch. There was home-cured gravlax with lemon cream cheese. There was a cold minted pea soup, garnished with yogurt and sugar snap pea slices. There was a classic Crab Louis. And there was a wild blueberry buckle, which Zora described as “fruit, loosely held together with cake.”

Zora clearly needs to go camping.

In the three hours or so we spent with Zora and Jonathan (an artist, and the illustrator of many National Geographic bird guides), never once did they seem to be giving us a wide berth, which I considered a triumph of lowered standards. Eventually, we had to drag ourselves away from a series of fascinating conversations with two lovely, interesting people for the embarrassing reason that two other lovely, interesting people had invited us for dinner, two more hours down the coast.

Our plan was to have dinner with Susan and Dennis, overnight in their driveway, and head home the next morning. We had brought way too much food with us, and I had a deboned leg of lamb, spread with a paste of garlic, rosemary, and olive oil, and vacuum sealed for the trip still in the cooler. Susan is a fan of lamb, and when I told her I had it she put it on the menu. Of course, she tarted it up with a little mustard, cooked it beautifully, and made a salad of green beans, olives, and potatoes to go with it. That, and the second fruit dessert of the day – a crumble, with crème fraiche – meant that it was one of the best food days Kevin and I have had in a long time.

We probably needed it, as an antidote to the standard-lowering involved in camping. The next morning, before we left, I got in the shower for the first time in five days.

We climbed The Beehive

We climbed The Beehive

There was one area in which our trip actually raised our standards. Acadia National Park is an extraordinary place. The hikes are interesting and varied, the bicycling hilly but not grueling, the views nothing short of astonishing. One of the reasons we seldom hike on the Cape is that most of the parks look a lot like our backyard – scrubby pine and oak bordering kettle-hole ponds. This trip isn’t going to make us look on local hikes with much more favor. (Although we will try and get out to the National Seashore and Provincetown, where there’s a bit more variety and, of course, a great deal of ocean.)

We came home last Thursday, five days ago, and the camper is still on the truck. That’s partly because Kevin, his standards being what they are, just hasn’t gotten around to taking it off yet. But it’s partly because we’d really like to use it again, maybe even before we need the truck to pull the boat (its primary job, up to now).

Maybe it’s too early to say, but I think I might love camping. I love the tiny house. I love the mobility. I love that we can go anywhere, and see anything, on our own schedule and at reasonable expense.

Low standards, I’ve always loved.

A venturing Fourth

The best way to make a tiny truck camper seem spacious and well-appointed is to spend the weekend on a 23-foot boat. That’s what Kevin and I did over the July 4th weekend, and we came home with a new appreciation of our camper’s amenities.

We also came home happy and smelly, with a cooler full of striped bass.

This is how it went down.

A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from an old college friend. I’ve known Peigi for thirty years, but something like twenty-seven of them passed without our seeing or hearing from each other. Then, thanks to the wonders of technology, we discovered that we were both still alive, and living a mere two hours apart. How ‘bout that?

We had lunch a few months back and discovered, among other things, that we both have husbands who introduced us to boating.

Peigi’s husband, Ken, introduced her to boating in spades. They have a 43-foot trawler, which makes our boat, a 23-foot SteigerCraft, look like a bathtub toy. They were planning to take said trawler to Provincetown for the weekend of the 4th, and Peigi wrote to me a few weeks back to ask whether, perchance, our mooring was free.

Our 23-foot bathtub toy

Our 23-foot bathtub toy

We’ve had a mooring in Provincetown Harbor for three or four years, and we always offer it to any friends with boats, since we seldom use it. I had offered it to Peigi, but it turned out that their boat was probably a little too big, and drafted a little too much, for them to be able to use it. They decided to anchor instead.

Which gave Kevin an idea. Since they weren’t using our mooring, why didn’t we use it?

In the four years we’ve had our boat, we’ve spend the odd night on it, but never more than one. The quarters are cramped in the extreme. The cabin consists of a V-berth big enough to accommodate two full-size sleeping people comfortably, but almost nothing besides. Living on the boat means using the berth for storage during the day, and then shifting everything to the pilot house and the deck when we go to bed.

There’s no proper head, a situation we have vast experience handling, mostly with waterfront-accessible public restrooms but with the occasional portable … ahem … solution (I’ve mentioned my low-level obsession with composting toilets and will address this issue in more depth some day, if you can stand the suspense). There are no proper cooking facilities, and we brought along a portable butane burner so we could have hot coffee and scrambled eggs.

We also brought two coolers full of ice. One held a bag of oysters on the way out, and was earmarked for fish on the way back, if we managed to catch any. The other was food and drink.

We had clothes for all kinds of weather, gear for all kinds of fishing, and plenty of wine. And, really, beyond that, what does a person need?

We had planned to go up on Saturday and stay through Tuesday morning, but weather intervened, in the form of winds strong enough for NOAA to issue a Small Craft Advisory.

A Small Craft Advisory means that anyone who was planning to cross Cape Cod Bay in a small craft should seriously rethink the plan. We rethought, and concluded that it was a good idea to sit it out, especially considering that we would be towing our dinghy, a teeny tiny rowboat.

We packed the boat on Saturday, and left Sunday morning.

Once we arrived, we celebrated an uneventful crossing with our very first hot meal on the boat – scrambled-egg sandwiches.

Everything tastes better when you have to jump through hoops to prepare it, and a very ordinary breakfast of eggs on a Kaiser roll was deliciousness itself. It helped, of course, that it was a beautiful day and we were sitting on the deck of our boat, looking out at all of Provincetown.

We met up with Peigi and Ken, strolled around the town, and had a nice dinner. The day went swimmingly – fortunately only figuratively. Finding out that our dinghy was not up to the challenge of a windy harbor meant that we were this close to going literally swimmingly, but we managed to avoid that.

Monday was marked for fishing.

We’ve lived on the Cape for eight years now, and we’ve learned a lot about catching some of the species in some of the places near our house, but we don’t know Provincetown at all. We’ve fished for tuna there a few times, but we’ve never gone out for striped bass.

We may not be able to fish, but we can read, and we’d read that the striped bass bite on the back side of Provincetown was excellent. There seemed to be several ways to catch them, so we brought all the tackle we own with us. Our strategy was to go out, find the boats that looked like they knew what they were doing, and try and figure out what, exactly, they were doing.

Live-lining mackerel is the strategy of choice for this time of year in Barnstable Harbor, and we’d read that it worked well for Ptown, as well. So job one was finding mackerel. We went out of the harbor and around the race, looking for boats jigging for baitfish. We found them, and slowed the boat so we could see what showed up on the fishfinder.

Different fish look different on the fishfinder, and we’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out what’s a mackerel and what’s something else. We saw plenty of life, but it didn’t look quite right to us. Still, we dropped a line with a sabiki rig, just to see.

We saw a zillion dolphins, and this is the best picture I got.

We saw a zillion dolphins, and this is the best picture I got.

It's a dolphin, honest!

It’s a dolphin, honest!

We didn’t get mackerel, but Kevin pulled up a couple of sea herring, also used for live-lining. We put them in a bucket and went all the way around the tip of the Cape.

And there, we found the armada. There were literally a hundred boats – at least – drifting with the tide over one particular ledge. It’s a long ledge, but still. It was the most crowded fishing spot I’d ever seen.

We found a space in the line and insinuated ourselves into the scrum. We put out two lines, baited with the herring, and waited.

I was not at all optimistic. I was not marking fish on the fishfinder. And, if even if fish were there, what were the odds? There were hundreds of lines out, with hundreds of herring, what was the chance that a striped bass would decide on one of ours? I wasn’t even manning my rod, which I stuck in a rod holder – I was in the pilothouse, watching the boats around us, worried that we were gaining on our neighbor because we drifted faster than he did.

And then I heard THAT NOISE. The ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ when a fish takes line.

“You’re on!” Kevin said, and I grabbed the rod out of the holder.

A couple minutes later, I landed a very nice 32-inch striped bass. Only then did I realize it hadn’t been my line that had ZZZZZZZZZZZZZed. It had been Kevin’s, but he let me take the fish. There’s a one-fish limit, so I stopped fishing, and we motored out to start a new drift to see if we could use our last herring to get Kevin a fish.

Not only did the next drift not yield a bass, but Kevin lost the herring.

Plan B was mining the tackle box, and he tried casting some soft plastics with weights to no avail. By this time, the armada had dispersed, and different boats were trying different areas. But they all seemed to be using herring.

I went back to the sabiki to see if I couldn’t get another herring or two. I saw all kinds of different-looking life at different depths, and dropped the sabiki down to see if it was something we could live-line (baitfish can’t resist a sabiki, and if the fish are there, you will catch them). It wasn’t, and it wasn’t, and then it was. I got us three more herring.

Kevin put out two lines, and we drifted. Within fifteen minutes, we heard that noise again, but then it stopped. Often, when you have a whole fish as bait, a fish that’s too small to eat it takes a nibble. It’ll run with your line for a while, but you lose it when you tighten the drag. He figured it was a baby fish.

But then it came back, with a vengeance. It took him a while to reel it in – a 42-inch, 25-pound bass.

With our limit in the cooler, we headed back to the harbor.

Kevin and fish

Kevin and fish

We swung by Peigi and Ken’s boat to drop off a filet, and had drinks on their bridge. It gave me a taste of what it’s like, having a boat of size. A proper galley. Not one, but two heads (which are better than one). Air conditioning! And a lovely shaded bridge on which to have drinks with your friends.

Not that I’m dissing our boat. We’ve spent many, many excellent hours on her. I’ve learned to fish on her. She’s taken us to explore Martha’s Vineyard and Woods Hole. We’ve caught almost all the seafood we’ve eaten in the last three years from her deck, literally hundreds of pounds a year. We’ve been able to take friends around to see the sights, or to catch their own fish.

And this year she took us to Provincetown for a wonderful 4th of July weekend.

After we left Peigi and Ken’s boat, we went back to our mooring and cleaned up best we could (you’ve seen those camp showers that are a big black bag with a spigot, as we were invited to a barbecue at the home of our friend Michel, who lives, rather fortuitously, exactly upland from our mooring. We brought Michel the second filet from my fish, as well as the bag of oysters, and enjoyed a lovely party with a great view of the fireworks.

So, yeah, the quarters were cramped. We couldn’t cook, and we couldn’t stay properly clean. Our dinghy is sub-standard, and needs to be replaced. Even making coffee is a huge production which, on Tuesday morning, ended in a French press full of coffee just ready to be plunged getting spilled all over the deck. A production indeed.

But we got a weekend away. We saw friends. We fished. We didn’t check e-mail and we didn’t post on Facebook.

And now, when we take the camper to Acadia in two weeks, it’ll feel like luxury on wheels.

Now you seed ’em

As those of you who come here regularly know, last year was a bust, oyster-wise. The brutal weather killed 90% of our overwintered crop, leaving us with almost nothing but a bumper crop of oyster shell to put on our driveway (which, I have to say, is much improved – it’s an ill wind that blows no good).

It was demoralizing, and there were moments, last year, when Kevin (who is the farmer-in-chief of this enterprise) contemplated the throwing in of the towel.

But everything’s different now. Last fall, Kevin bought the shellfish operation of a widow whose husband had farmed oysters and clams, and we now lease three acres – two in Barnstable Harbor, on the north side of the Cape, and one in West Bay, on the south side. It opens up many new possibilities – for more oysters, for steamers, and possibly for razor clams – and we’re ramping up.

To that end, we bought 300,000 seed oysters – double our usual purchase – and 200,000 of them were ready to go out on the grant this week. Not coincidentally, we had houseguests. Our friends Dave and Bonnie were visiting from Vermont. Bonnie and Dave are nothing if not game, and they were ready and willing to help us get the seed out.

Kevin and I picked it up in the morning from our friends at Cape Cod Oyster. They had gotten it from the hatchery when it was about the size of a pinhead, and grown it to 10 millimeters. (That’s a step we used to do ourselves, but it makes more sense for us to buy it larger, from people who have the facilities to grow it out more efficiently and uniformly.) At that size, there are 4.4 oysters to the gram, which meant our 200,000 weighed almost exactly 100 pounds.

Oyster seed, 10 mm each

Oyster seed, 10 mm each

The seed came in two fish totes – sturdy plastic boxes that can either nest or stack – and we loaded them in the back of the truck, hoping that we’d be able to get all of the seed out in the four-hour window that low tide afforded us.

That's about 60,000 oysters

That’s about 60,000 oysters

It’s a big job, and most of the work happens before seed day. Kevin has spent the last three months getting all our equipment ready to go. He replaced the legs on hundreds of trays, washed and repaired hundreds of bags, and devised a new system to attach the bags to the trays (the trays hold mature oysters, and the stiff bags of younger oysters lie on top of them). He attached lengths of cord to thousands of the stainless steel clips that hold the bags on the trays.

The grow-out bags sit on the trays, clipped on at top and bottom

The grow-out bags sit on the trays, clipped on at top and bottom

By the time yesterday rolled around, the trays were already out on the grant, and the bags were tied in bundles of ten, ready go. After we picked up the seed, but while the tide was still fairly high, Kevin and Dave took the bundles of bags (32 of them) out, so they’d be there when we went out later in the day with the seed.

Here’s what had to happen in our four-hour window:

Each of 320 bags had to get about 650 baby oysters (five ounces or so) put in it. Volume-wise, that’s about a cup and a quarter, and we found a coffee mug that held exactly that much.

Each bag then needed to be closed with a slide, which is a tube the length of the top of the bag, slit the long way. You put the corner of the bag in the slit, and slide the tube over the top.

Once the slide’s on, you attach the clip that will hold it to the tray. Then you put a zip tie around the slide, just to make sure it stays in place.

The filled, closed bags go in the cart, 20 at a time, and have to be transported to, and attached to, the trays, two bags to a tray.

We had 320 bags, 240 minutes, and four people, which meant an average of three person-minutes per bag. It was a tall order.

Kevin and Dave, attaching bags to trays

Kevin and Dave, attaching bags to trays

A job like that is all about the logistics. It’s about putting the tote of oysters, the slides, the clips, and the zip ties in easy reach of the bags. It’s about having an efficient way of moving the bags from step to step. It’s about not wasting motion and staying out of other people’s way. Done properly, it’s a kind of dance.

Kevin and me

Kevin and me

It took us a while to get it down, but after the first hour we were working like that well-oiled machine you always hear about. Bonnie and I filled the bags in batches of twenty, and each of us then took ten to put on slides, clips, and zip ties. From the first bag to the last, Bonnie never stopped moving, jumping in to do whatever needed to get done, and getting faster and faster as she got more practice. I work pretty hard when I’m out there, but working alongside someone else working hard helps me keep up the pace, too.

Bonnie, always moving

Bonnie, always moving

Once our twenty bags were finished and piled in the cart, Kevin and Dave took them away and attached them to the trays. If they got back before the next twenty was ready to go, they helped with the clips and zip ties. As soon as they took one load away, we started the next.

It’s robotic work. You do the same thing over and over again, and the only variation is when something goes wrong — the slide won’t go on the bag or the clips get tangled up together. But there is satisfaction in finding the rhythm, of working smoothly with other people, and in getting the job done in the four hours the tide granted us, which we did. There’s also satisfaction in being tired, sore, and a little banged-up from lifting heavy, awkward things with sharp edges.

It feels good, to start fresh. These 200,000, and the additional 100,000 that we’ll get later in the summer, won’t be big enough to sell this year, but we’re cautiously optimistic about 2017.


My first camping trip

I’m 53 years old, and I just went camping for the very first time.

It’s not that I didn’t have other chances; you can’t live on this planet for 53 years without being presented with the opportunity to camp. It’s that I was dead-set against it.

Sleeping on the ground holds no charms for me. I don’t want dinner to be whatever I can hold over a campfire, skewered on a stick. And I don’t care much for insects. All of which added up to 53 years’ worth of a no-camping policy.

I was fully convinced that camping wasn’t for me. At the same time, though, I am all in on the tiny house movement. Every time one of my friends posts one of those irresistible itty bitty homes on Facebook, I have to click through. I look at all the interior pictures. I show it to Kevin. “We could live in that, couldn’t we, honey?”

Kevin, as those of you who come here often will know, is nobody’s fool. And he likes to camp. Tents, bugs, and meals on sticks are OK with him, as long as he has an interesting destination and comfortable shoes. And, while he knew he probably wasn’t going to win me over on that kind of camping, there was another kind he thought he could work with.

And so he started showing me pictures of truck campers. Not that he called them “truck campers,” of course. He called them “tiny houses.” Portable tiny houses. Itty bitty spaces with everything you need. Just slide it on to your truck bed and go.

That is how we ended up with Yertle.

first camp1Yertle is our truck camper – named, for obvious reasons, after the Dr. Seuss turtle. I’m not yet sure whether the name will stick, so we’re not going to order the decal, but that’s what I think of it as. It’s about as small as truck campers get, and as inexpensive – we bought it from a lovely family who outgrew it when their two kids could no longer share the single bed that the dinette transforms into.

It consists of a platform bed (in the part of the camper that goes over the truck cab), the aforementioned dinette, and just enough in the way of appliances to get by. A 3-burner propane stove, a fridge about half the size of the one in your dorm room, a tiny sink with a faucet you have to pump, and a really good heater. For a bathroom, there’s just a little chemical toilet. (This has prompted a kind of low-level obsession with composting toilets, a subject for another day.)

We have big plans for Yertle, but we figured it was smart to try a shakedown cruise, close to home, to see how we liked truck camping. We made a one-night reservation at Nickerson State Park, about 30 miles up the Cape from us.

I was very surprised. My life-long no-camping policy had meant that I had, literally, zero exposure to campgrounds. When you said the word “camping,” all I saw was tents; when you said “campgrounds,” I pictured clearings in the woods. I had no idea that camping had infrastructure. Flat, cleared spots with numbers, picnic tables, and firepits, sometimes with electrical and water hook-up. There are schedules.  And rules. And access to actual, genuine bathrooms. Showers, even! Park your tiny house on your numbered space, and the world’s your oyster! Camping isn’t so bad after all.

And so I posted a picture of it on Facebook, and my friends were quick to inform me that I wasn’t camping at all. Genuine camping involves, as I’d always suspected, tents and discomfort. The kind of camping that involves tiny houses and electrical hook-up is called “glamping,” a portmanteau word whose constituent parts are “glamour” and “camping.”

Before I plead guilty, allow me to point out that, if you’re looking for a word that evokes luxury and soft living, “glamping” isn’t it. It sounds more like a cross between “glamour” and “eclampisa,” which is very hard to imagine, but unpleasant nevertheless. So, those of you tent campers who are looking to sneer at people who prefer a roof over their heads – and you know who you are – I suggest you go back to the drawing board on that one.

And now I will plead guilty. I prefer a roof over my head. An actual mattress to sleep on. A way to make coffee that doesn’t involve firewood. Heat. All of which Yertle provided.

Check-in time (who knew?) was 1:00, and we arrived a bit early. It took us all of fifteen minutes to set up; Kevin leveled the camper and I unpacked the dishes and groceries. We spent the afternoon hiking around the park, and returned with enough daylight left to make dinner. We brought a little kettle grill, and Kevin smoked a chicken. I parboiled a couple of sweet potatoes and seasoned some asparagus before we left, and we threw those on the grill when the chicken came off. It was about as perfect a camp dinner as I can imagine.

Unless you count the fact that Kevin beat me at gin rummy, nothing went wrong on our shakedown cruise. This has emboldened us, and we’re scheduling a trip up the coast to Acadia National Park, in Maine, some time this summer. If that goes well, who knows? We could show up at your house any day.

A husband who makes breakfast and doesn't object when you post pictures of him in his underwear!

A husband who makes breakfast and doesn’t object when you post picture of him in his underwear!